Acceptance is the first step to working things out. Nationalist discrimination is a worldwide problem, but in Britain it can be far more vulgar. The fact is, racism mostly occurs underneath the flowery surface. Brits are subtle about it if you’re not part of the minority that’s being targeted, but we interviewed a Bulgarian-born elderly woman living in London who feels the heat of intolerance.
Since the early 90s there’s been a strong stereotype associated with Eastern Europeans. I’m embarrassed to say I have occasionally been inclined to lie about where I am from. Not because I am particularly ashamed of being Bulgarian, but because of the prejudice that comes with it. I’ve labored under the secure wing of the Bulgarian embassy in many European countries through the years, but when the time came to find life outside of that ‘kushti’ circle, I was surprised to find countries like England were less than thrilled to accept me.
After thorough document accumulation I was finally given the all clear and came to the UK in the early noughties. Bulgaria entered the European Union in 2007. It was then though that life would change drastically for Bulgarian people. We have been forced to abide by rules that countries that are better off can’t seem to abide by. And, we are still suppressed from travelling to certain parts of Europe freely. It still feels like Eastern Europe is being treated with less dignity. It’s almost as if we’re being invited to an opulent dinner party but the wait staff has failed to provide us with the cutlery.
‘Taking our jobs,’ they say. A short while back a British man expressed his views on immigrants in the UK: Britain has a problem he said, immigration laws should be tougher. He had previously been to an interview for a job he was not qualified for. The person who he was competing with was from Kosovo. He had more skills and experience. Why wouldn’t the more experienced of the two get the job? If I was a British employer starting up a new business, would I give priority due to nationality or gender? The guy who expressed these views subsequently went on the dole. Did it not occur to him to better himself?
I was discussing immigrants and poverty with an acquaintance the other day. They told me that ‘people were poor out by choice.’ Kids in the slums do not have a different choice to make, I thought. Governments have already made the choice for them. Only privileged people with more opportunities express views of this kind. Their ideology bothers me. In Bulgarian we have a saying – Someone replete with food doesn’t trust the hungry.
My daughter and I went to Scotland for a University interview. We stayed at a Scottish-run bed and breakfast. Once we arrived, after the owner inquired as to where we came from, she asked me to pay the money upfront and not at the end of our stay as the website previously stated. Was that a reasonable change to the conditions, or was I simply being paranoid?
Prejudice against Eastern Europeans is common. On my way back to England after a short break, I was stopped at border security. The man behind the desk asked me why I had applied for British citizenship when I have a Bulgarian ID card that allows me to travel freely in the EU. He was clearly not of British heritage and was looking to find dishonesty. Without wanting to be prejudiced myself, I didn’t want to say, ‘Probably for the same reason your parents did.’ So I quickly thought of something a little less sincere and a lot less severe.
I won’t let anyone disturb my goals. I’m here to follow my ambitions, provide my kids with the tools they need to succeed. The disappointment and humiliation I endure at times is a mere factor that I can tolerate. Not many understand just how hurtful certain generalisations can be, be it race, gender or lifestyle. What I’ve learned is that I need to embrace the reality, but defy discrimination.